There was once a cheater called Renan Calheiros. He was born in Alagoas, Brazil. In the seventies, during Brazil’s military dictatorship, he stood for democracy and the end of a bi-partisan era, affiliating himself to the Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro).
Fast forward a few decades later, as the President of the Brazilian Senate, he was caught red handed accepting bribes from a lobbyist to support a bastard son, the result of an extramarital affair. He stepped down a few months later, ending his term as President of the Senate in 2007. It was out, he cheated on two counts, he betrayed the voters who chose him as a leader and his family.
Being accused of taking bribes was bad enough for his reputation (or you would think) but the following investigations into his funds revealed more than sketchy dealings with lobbyists. Income tax fraud, document fraud and embezzlement.
The cheater stepped down, but he wasn’t impeached. This was six years ago, and to this day he hasn’t been tried for any of the allegations as there was not enough evidence to proceed with a trial and the case was filed into a dusty drawer.
In 2007 he was actually, outrageously, absolved by his peers – in the eyes of the Senate there is not enough evidence to convict him. He was free and he stepped down as president when he wanted to step down – but he continued as senator for Alagoas. He was never, and I gather will never, be punished for anything, and continued practicing as a senator, being re-elected for 2 consecutive terms.
Though this scandal was quite public, this February he was once again elected to be President of the Senate by his peers while he is still waiting for his trial by the Supreme Federal Court. He accused of stealing from public funds, yet he is still allowed to run for a public office. There are almost not enough words to describe how completely absurd the situation is, considering that the Brazilian Senate has just passed the Ficha Limpa law ( Clean Record Law) that determines no one with a criminal record can run for office for three years.
Officially, Calheiros does not have a criminal record yet .And since the law only guarantees crooked politicians can’t run for three years, the truth is that they are not even banned completely or forever. It should certainly predict cases like his, where a man is under suspicion of embezzlement and his character and morals are in doubt. The people have already reacted to his taking of the position of leader of the Senate and 1.3 million people have already signed it. Unfortunately that’s only 0,66% of the Brazilian population.
A campaign mostly done via Facebook and that failed to get more than 1% of the population to sign it emphasizes the size of Brazil and how much of it is excluded from education and technology. In Alagoas Renan Calheiros was chosen as senator once again after allegations, was it popular trust that trumped accusations or simply proof that lack of education makes our people weak minded and easy to fool?
In 2011 I wrote about illiteracy in Brazil that contrasted wildly with a book fair I attended and that prized itself with new technologies that were finally available in this huge country. According to this BBC report, over 65% of Brazilians who are over 10 years old do not access the internet. Even more shocking is that Brazil has 14 million people who are unable to read or write. Combining the digitally excluded with the illiterate, that’s at least 72% of the Brazilian population who is unable to access information properly.
The numbers are scary, and they get even worse. The Economist classed the Brazilian education system as the second worse system in the whole world. On top of 72% of people who already struggle to find information or be educated, the lack or decadence of the education in Brazil traps the population in a state where social mobility is an extremely difficult feat, changing the government is impossible, and where weak-minded people are constructed by the society on purpose.
So it’s no surprise Renan Calheiros is President of the Senate. And while he, and others who have called the Clean Record Law a ‘ridiculous abuse of power’, are the leaders, the space for change is quite small. So where do we go from here?
Photos by black_wall and Agência Senado / Flickr Creative Commons License.